I first came across David Goggins when I read “Living with a Navy Seal”. A book about an ordinary person extending his capabilities by taking on Navy Seals principles. Goggins wrote his own book, “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds”. A book so tough, it hurts.
Why be mediocre
There is an intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognised human capabilities. That is why I am fascinated by the Navy Seals. We can learn an awful lot from their leadership mantras, their attitude and their mindset. Read “The Navy Seal art of war”.
We settle for less than our best
We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or racecourse. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole.
You are soft
The most important conversations you will ever have are the ones you will have with yourself. That is the key message. You are soft. You choose to see yourself as a victim of circumstance. You will die without ever realising your true potential. Doing things, even small things, that make you uncomfortable will help make you strong. In the military, they have a statistic. Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. But the one, the one is a warrior”. Most of us are part of the ninety. I would argue that entrepreneurs are probably part of the nine.
You are at 40%
You are probably living at about 40% of your true capability. It is time to toughen up. For example, you don’t stop when you are tired. You stop when you are done. You are getting hard instead of giving up. You give pain a shape. Pain means you are still alive. Even the best pep talk or self-help hack is nothing but a temporary fix. It won’t rewire your brain. It won’t amplify your voice or uplift your life. You need to tell yourself the truth. If you look in the mirror and if you see a fat person, don’t tell yourself that you need to lose a couple of pounds. Tell the truth. You’re fat! The figures about your business don’t lie either. You are making a sustainable living, or you are not.
Nobody likes to hear the hard truth. Individually and as a culture, we avoid what we need to hear most. There is no more time to waste. Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realise you’re doing it to become better.
It is a mind game
The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. You need to control that part of your brain. Everything in life is a mind game! Whenever we get swept under by life’s dramas, large and small, we forget that no matter how bad the pain gets, no matter how harrowing the torture, all bad things end. When you indulge in negative self-talk, the gifts of a sympathetic response will remain out of reach. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed. Very few people even bother to try to control the way their thoughts and doubts bubble up. The vast majority of us are slaves to our minds.
There are no hacks. Shortcuts don’t equal permanent results. Physical training is the perfect crucible to learn how to manage your thought process because when you’re working out, your focus is more likely to be single-pointed, and your response to stress and pain is immediate and measurable. The reason it’s important to push hardest when you want to quit the most because it helps you disregard your mind. Set ambitious goals before each workout, and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests. If it’s a run or bike ride, include some time to do interval work and challenge yourself to beat your best mile split. Or simply maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. When the pain hits and tries to stop you short of your goal, dunk your fist in, pull out a cookie, and let it fuel you!
Push through the pain
But how do you push yourself when pain is all you feel with every step? When agony is the feedback loop that permeates each cell in your body, begging you to stop? What’s universal is the impulse to succumb. The reason Goggin embraces his own obsessions and demand and desire more of himself is because he has learned that it’s only when you push beyond pain and suffering, past his perceived limitations, that he is capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally—in endurance races but also in life as a whole. He believes the same is true for you.
You have 60% more to give
The human body is like a stock car. We may look different on the outside, but under the hood, we all have huge reservoirs of potential and a governor impeding us from reaching our maximum velocity. Our governor is buried deep in our minds, intertwined with our very identity. It knows what and whom we love and hate; it’s read our whole life story and forms the way we see ourselves and how we’d like to be seen. It’s the software that delivers personalised feedback—in the form of pain and exhaustion, but also fear and insecurity, and it uses all of that to encourage us to stop before we risk it all. Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40% of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60% more to give! There is a lot of science behind this. Read “Endure”
The 40% rule
Once you know that to be true, it’s simply a matter of stretching your pain tolerance, letting go of your identity and all your self-limiting stories, so you can get to 60%, then 80% and beyond without giving up. I call this The 40% Rule, and the reason it’s so powerful is that if you follow it, you will unlock your mind to new levels of performance and excellence in sports and in life, and your rewards will run far deeper than mere material success. The 40% rule can be applied to everything we do. Because in life, almost nothing will turn out exactly as we hope. It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40% is too callous your mind, day after day. This means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your job!
Control your mind
The first step is to remember that your initial blast of pain and fatigue is your governor talking. Once you do that, you are in control of the dialogue in your mind, and you can remind yourself that you are not as drained as you think. Of course, it’s easy to be open-minded when you leave yoga class and are taking a stroll by the beach, but when you’re suffering, keeping an open mind is hard work. We don’t all have the same floor or ceiling, but we each have a lot more in us than we know, and when it comes to endurance sports like ultrarunning, everyone can achieve feats they once thought impossible.
Remove your governor
We must remove our governor. Your job is to push past your normal stopping point. Whether you are running on a treadmill or doing a set of push-ups, get to the point where you are so tired and in pain that your mind is begging you to stop. Then push just 5 to 10 per cent further. This gradual ramp-up will help prevent injury and allow your body and mind to slowly adapt to your new workload. It also resets your baseline; The bottom line is that life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself.
There is no shortcut
Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.
Look at your life
For Tom Goggin, a forty-hour workweek is a 40% effort. It means streamlining your nutrition, spending quality time with your wife and kids. It means scheduling your life like you’re on a twenty-four-hour mission every single day. Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless things. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth, you’d deactivate your Facebook account STAT, and cut your cable.
Eviscerate the hollow hours
It’s up to you to find ways to eviscerate the hollow hours. How much time do you spend at the dinner table talking about nothing after the meal is done? How many calls and texts do you send for no reason at all? Look at your whole life, list your obligations and tasks. Put a time stamp on them. That means listing your prioritised tasks every hour of the day. You can even narrow it down to fifteen-minute windows and don’t forget to include backstops in your day-to-day schedule. When you audit your life, skip the time-wasting nonsense, and use backstops, you’ll find time to do everything you need and want to do. But remember that you also need rest, so schedule that in. Listen to your body, sneak in those ten- to twenty-minute power naps when necessary, and take one full rest day per week.
If you truly want to become uncommon amongst the uncommon, it will require sustaining greatness for an extended period of time. It requires staying in constant pursuit and putting out unending effort. This means not only getting into Wharton Business School but being ranked #1 in your class. It means not just graduating BUD/S, but becoming Enlisted Honour Man in Army Ranger School then going out and finishing Badwater. Continue to put obstacles in front of yourself, because that’s where you’ll find the friction that will. It was a lonely journey from there to here.
It does not sound like a lot of fun
The author finishes the book by admitting he missed out on so much. He did not have a lot of fun. Happiness wasn’t his cocktail of choice. Rage is a powerful thing. For years he raged at the world, channelled all his pain from his past and used it as fuel to propel him into the stratosphere.
Be a better version of yourself
The book reminds me of “The Art of Resilience: Strategies for an Unbreakable Mind and Body” and “Extreme ownership” and his perspective is the extreme version. It is not very Ayurveda (my current operating system of choice), but there are lessons in there. And they are straightforward. “No pain, no gain” and “Health mind, healthy body”. In fact, it is the other way around. Focus on a healthy body first, and a healthy mind will follow. And get beyond the 40%. There is much more possible than you think. You need to break the habit of being yourself. Be the better, stronger, more mindful, gentler version.